For years I hesitated to try making sauerkraut. I guess I thought the process was too mysterious and difficult. Last year I tried making it for the first time and it came out wonderfully. What I discovered was, it isn’t difficult at all. Basically, you chop cabbage, add salt, and let it sit. In a couple of weeks, you have sauerkraut. O.K., I exaggerate a bit, but truly, it is not complicated.
All right, I hear some of you wondering, “why would I even want to make sauerkraut at all?” And if you’ve only eaten that mushy stuff out of a jar or can, I don’t blame you. Take my word for it, fresh, homemade kraut is something else entirely. And nutritionally, it combines the great profile of cruciferous vegetables with the probiotic goodness of all naturally fermented foods. Vern Varona, in his book, Macrobiotics for Dummies, puts it this way: “Researchers have shown that the process of fermenting cabbage produces isothiocyanates, which are known to prevent cancer growth….Sauerkraut also has strong detoxifying properties. Containing plentiful amounts of probiotic bacteria, which create lactic acid, sauerkraut aids digestion by restoring a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria throughout the intestinal tract.” Not convinced? Once made, it’s a convenience food, as it will keep in your fridge for weeks, maybe months, no cooking or further preparation needed. True, it is salty, so think of it as a pickle or a condiment. Eat it in small quantities, a couple tablespoons at a time. If you’re still worried about salt, give it a rinse. It’s great in sandwiches or as a condiment with rice and other grains. My easy, step-by-step directions are after the jump.
MAKE SAUERKRAUT AT HOME
1. Have your hands, knife, cutting board and bowl especially clean. Wash and pat dry one or more large cabbages (a large cabbage will weigh around four pounds). Use green cabbages if you like, but I use red because the kraut comes out such a striking color.
2. Cut it into quarters, then slice as you would for cole slaw, but don’t cut it quite as fine. Use the cores and all, it all makes good sauerkraut.
3. Place in a large bowl and add good quality sea salt (use about three tablespoons of salt for every five pounds of cabbage). I also added a few chopped garlic cloves and the juice of a lemon, but those are optional.
4. Using your hands, work the salt into the cabbage, kind of knead it as you would bread.
5. Place the cabbage in a crock, large glass jar or some other non-reactive container. Tamp it down with your fists, or a potato masher.
6. Insert a plate to almost cover the cabbage. Weigh down the plate. I used a pitcher filled with water. Cover all with a clean cloth and place in a cool, out-of-the-way corner.
7. After 24 hours, check to see if a watery brine has formed to cover the cabbage. If not, add enough brine so that the cabbage is completely covered. To make a brine, dissolve 1 1/2 tablespoons salt in one quart filtered water and add that to the cabbage until it is covered in brine.
8. Cover again with a towel, and check every day or two. It is edible at every step of the way. After a few days it should be a still-crunchy cabbage pickle and after two weeks or so, it should be full-on sauerkraut. If a little scum appears, don’t worry, just skim it off. How fast cabbage ferments depends on a number of factors, temperature primarily, and the reason we prefer to do it in the winter is that cooler temperatures lead to a slower, more even fermentation.
9. Once it’s reached the degree of fermentation you prefer, refrigerate your sauerkraut and enjoy it for weeks. The sauerkraut juice is also good. Add it to soups, or save it to kickstart your next batch of kraut.